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SIDE STREETS: Private social media site designed for neighborhoods

By: BILL VOGRIN
January 11, 2013
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photo - Members of the Cragmor Nextdoor.com site are greeted by a log-in page before ganing access. Photo by Courtesy Nextdoor.com
Members of the Cragmor Nextdoor.com site are greeted by a log-in page before ganing access. Photo by Courtesy Nextdoor.com 

As social web sites have exploded, neighborhoods have taken advantage by using various sites such as Facebook and NeighborhoodLink.com to connect and communicate.

An alternative site, Nextdoor.com, launched in October 2011 and has attracted about three dozen neighborhoods in Colorado Springs.

It differs from other sites I’ve seen primarily in its commitment to protecting the privacy of its members from search engines and trollers.

I heard about it, ironically, from a Facebook friend, Nicole Cumings GuBrath, who created a Nextdoor site in late October for her Cragmor neighborhood of about 1,500 homes.

“I’ve finally met some neighbors who have lived nearby for years,” she said at the time.

Initially, she was very excited. But her enthusiasm has cooled in the following weeks.

One feature of Nextdoor that Nicole really liked was its insistence that members live in the neighborhood, which is bordered by North Nevada Avenue, Austin Bluffs Parkway, Union Boulevard and the Templeton Gap Floodway.

San Francisco-based Nextdoor verifies addresses of originators like Nicole as well as folks invited by postcard or email to join. It’s a unique feature that separates Nextdoor from private groups on Facebook and other sites, Nicole said.

Nextdoor requires at least 10 people join before a neighborhood group is established and Nicole initially attracted 19 neighbors.

Among them was Jill Travis, a friend of Nicole.

“I think it’s an interesting idea,” Jill said. “I appreciated the privacy aspect.”

Although she hasn’t been terribly active on Nextdoor, Jill said it was handy after thieves recently broke into her car, parked outside her home, and stole her wallet.

“I thought it was a particularly helpful way to alert folks in the neighborhood that my wallet was stolen,” Jill said, adding that another neighbor replied that her car had been broken into as well.

So I tried Nextdoor and created a site for my Rockrimmon neighborhood. I found it a pretty easy process and I was impressed that it let me establish precise borders on my neighborhood.

The key to the process was its requirement that I, as host, identify at least 10 neighbors to invite either by email or postcards that Nextdoor would send.

Nicole said she had Nextdoor send 384 postcards in Cragmor. But the response was disappointing.

“We only have 24 who signed up,” she said. “Not an overwhelming response.

“But I’ve enjoyed meeting everyone.”

She said neighbors talk about community issues. And a real estate agent has been reporting housing sales. She said the hottest topic seems to be property crimes in Cragmor.

“I’m not as enthusiastic as I was a few months ago,” Nicole said. “My overall opinion is that it’s a great idea, but it needs some work.”

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